Changing The Culture – Part 2

Focusing on the Positives

I believe in the importance of being positive in and out of the classroom in order to give students confidence. I pride myself on creating a positive classroom environment. In fact, a former student once described me as ‘waaaaaaay over-enthusiastic’ which I am not sure was meant as a compliment, but I will take it as one!

I look forward to parents’ evenings. There, I said it. And I am usually (ahem, always) the last teacher standing. I love talking to parents about their child, especially those who have been most underperforming. With all students I like to talk about what they have done well, rather than what they have not done, and then discuss what they could do to be even better. I feel that this is most powerful for those underperforming students because I want them to still get recognition for what they have done well, whilst I address the negatives by giving them direction for improvement. I do this because I feel that if I talk about negatives then they won’t necessarily be addressed. By focusing on the things they have done well I hope that it will encourage them to have more positive experiences in my lessons.

In my role as Head of House I communicate with parents on a regular basis to discuss progress and achievement. I have been in the role for 18 months now and I love it, but I quickly found that most of my conversations – whether they were with students, teachers or parents – were for negative reasons and the only opportunities I had to celebrate achievements were during parents’ evenings and in rewards assemblies, which we have twice a year. That was until I met a head teacher on a coaching course who shared with me her idea of Positive Fridays. This simple idea entails making only positive phone calls home on Friday afternoons. I have used this for the last year and I have been blown away by the impact they have made, in particular with two very different students – the first student, a high-attaining Year 8 girl in my House with a reputation around school as a fantastic learner who I had highlighted for praise after an exceptional data report. I rang home and Mum was surprised by the nature of the call, but was grateful to me for giving up the time to personally recognise her daughter’s achievements. However it was only the following week when I spoke to the girl, that I realised just how grateful her mum was, as unbeknownst to me she was crying with pride on the other end of the phone for the duration of the call.

The second student was a Year 10 boy in my maths class who had a reputation as a ‘bit of a character’. His brother, in Year 11, had recently moved schools after finding himself in trouble on numerous occasions and it looked like he may have been following in his footsteps. However, just before Christmas he had worked exceptionally well for a number of lessons which I felt needed recognising. I made the call and started by expressing how pleased I was with her son’s effort, so much so that he had earned the Student of the Month award in his class. His mum was taken aback by this and she explained that she assumed it was going to be one of ‘the usual’ phone calls about how her son had done something wrong. She went on to say she had never experienced this kind of phone call before and could not thank me enough. In the next lesson the boy thanked me for ringing home and conveyed how happy it had made his mum. I would like to think that this proved to be the catalyst for an improvement in his engagement and ultimately, his progress.

Positive Friday will continue to be a mainstay in my weekly routine as I look forward to using it even more effectively next year.


Changing the Culture

I have been meaning to start my own blog for ages as a way of documenting my reflections from the classroom as a maths teacher, and now that I have a bit of time I have finally got round to it. I have a few ideas for things to share but could not decide on which one until a conversation I had tonight about the culture of disengagement in maths. Why do students not like maths? What can we, as teachers, do about it? Of course there is a lot of literature out there written by experts who could answer those questions far better than me, but I would like to offer my methods and their impact.

Maths is hard, but that’s part of its charm

Let’s face it, maths is hard, and this has ultimately been the sticking point for students who lack resilience. The difference between those who believe they are ‘good at maths’ and those who aren’t, is that the former like the challenge whereas the latter don’t have the resilience or perseverance to roll up their sleeves.  Getting it wrong the first time or reaching a problem puts some students off and they give up. Others aren’t prepared to work hard to fulfil their potential, which has certainly been the most frustrating thing for me to deal with. I have worked hard to try to motivate my classes to perform to the best of their ability and I believe I have had a positive impact on some, whilst others have left me wondering what might have been. Of course, the old proverb ‘you can lead a horse to water…’ springs to mind. So how do you motivate students who don’t put in the effort that they are capable of?

There is an unfortunate culture in society that suggests it is ok to not be good at maths and there are only a select few who can be good at it. In spite of this, I aim to promote the idea that anyone can be successful mathematicians and it is not about getting the right answer. I want students to have a growth mindset, to believe that they can take on knowledge like anybody else, which is why I am an advocate of mixed attainment classes. I am excited to be introducing this to the maths classroom in a few weeks and look forward to documenting my reflections on its impact. But for now I have implemented a number of things, with varied effectiveness, with the aim of changing the culture in my classroom. Over the next couple of weeks I will be sharing some of these strategies and how effective I feel they have been. I hope that my ideas are going some way to building a culture of positivity in my maths lessons, although I know that the battle is not yet won. Here goes…